Cricket: Tendulkar shows his mastery

India 329-2; Kenya 235-7 India win by 94 runs
IT WAS the feeding of the 8,500. Diehard souls for whom cricket is akin to religion and Sachin Tendulkar as close to the Messiah in this context as makes no difference. And certainly what unfolded here yesterday was not far short of divine.

There is little doubt that, with two defeats already in this tournament, India cannot afford further losses, and may well struggle to qualify for the Super Six stage. But not until the master appeared was there anything for India's faithful to cheer. The grief over his father's death still cloaked him, it was only 48 hours previously that Tendulkar had attended the funeral in Bombay, but there was an air of inevitability about things from the moment he stepped on the field.

The Indian innings was halfway through and not going that well, but all that changed as Tendulkar and his staunch partner Rahul Dravid set about wrecking the Kenyan attack and wreaking havoc with the record books.

In around 29 overs the pair took India to World Cup realms they had never been before, and the crowd to untold heights of ecstasy in the doing of it.

By the time they trooped off India had passed 300 for the first time in a World Cup tournament (their total was the seventh highest in the history of the tournament) and Tendulkar and Dravid had surpassed the Waugh twins partnership record of 207 for any wicket in the tournament to ensure a victory at last.

At no point did Tendulkar slog. His was a cultured and calculated approach which brought him his 22nd one-day hundred. His first 50 took 54 balls, and his last 40 runs came off just 17 deliveries. It was breathtaking and beautiful.

There were some outrageous, unthinkable shots, including a reverse pull for four. There was also some panic in the field and a great deal of naivete trying to contain the batsmen. But no one could defend the shot off the final ball, which Tendulkar dispatched over midwicket for his third six to end things in style.

There was a danger of Dravid's contribution to the 237-run stand being overlooked. But if he was a sheet anchor then he managed a fair amount of movement. He had been content to leave the pulpit to Tendulkar, but he still picked off runs at every opportunity and reached a very good unbeaten century at just about a run a ball in the last over.

Kenya did not go quietly, however. They recovered from the loss of two wickets in successive balls from the rapid Debashish Mohanty but opener Kennedy Otieno and Steve Tikolo cut, carved and clubbed their way to a useful stand of 118 in 15 overs of belligerent batting. Tendulkar's halo slipped when his only over contributed 23 runs to the Kenyan cause.

But once this pair were parted - each having reached a half-century - the fightback fizzled out. The Kenyans did not disgrace themselves, but India will have to sharpen up in the field and tighten their bowling if they are to make further progress.